The Lessons of T Shirts to Marketers

One of the problems all of us marketers has is that we lie to ourselves. We want so badly to reinforce what we think we know that we often miss the obvious.

We turn to focus groups and see what we want to see.
We turn to “experts” and hear what we want to hear.
We turn to research to read what we want to read.

We even talk to our customers. Unfortunately, our customers perception of how they interact with our products and services don’t alway match reality. No where is this more obvious than at sporting events.

No where in any research have customers told us that they get most excited at a sporting event by T Shirts. But its true. I have gone to NBA games in every arena and many NHL and MLB games across the country . Without exception, the response to T Shirts being thrown into the audience exceeds the response to actual game action for all but the most exciting of game action moments.

The minute the T Shirt cannons or slingshots come on the court, field or ice, every man, woman or child of any age is up screaming their head off trying to get a free T Shirt . They have no idea what is on the shirt. They know the chances of getting one are slim, but it doesnt matter. Its T Shirts gone wild.

Its a huge marketing lesson.

The Customer is always right, but often they tell you want they want not by their responses to your inquiries but by their actions.

Sporting events are special because they allow customers to be part of and participate in an energetic environment that is unique. Some leagues are trying to minimize that energy by reducing sound, lights and other activities. Its a huge mistake. Maybe they should take a step back , or better yet a step up and sit with their customers and watch how they act during a game.

Its much more rewarding than sitting through a focus group.

79 thoughts on “The Lessons of T Shirts to Marketers

  1. Hi, the lesson given on the t-shirts is really very amazing and cute…


    Comment by suma valluru -

  2. Great team t-shirts are great for sport fans and for team spirit!

    Comment by Terri -

  3. I never really thought about it like that, but you are correct. T-shirt giveaways are more popular than giveaways for bigger things. People are just crazy like that.

    People also pay way too much for shirts with cool sayings…They are still tshirts!

    Comment by Fractals -

  4. It\’s funny how people can wear a sport or group t-shirt and you know who exactly they are rooting for! Take our school for example. We had some t-shirts printed up by, We had our custom wording with our school colors etc. Everyone knew what we were all about with saying a word!

    Comment by Sal -

  5. Custom t-shirts offer the biggest bang for your promotional buck. Offer a t-shirt giveaway at a tradeshow and I am always amazed to see successful, time-starved business execs waiting in line to bring home a FREE t-shirtbranded with your logo.

    Note to marketers. If you are going to print t-shirts for an event, make your t-shirt design more impactful by utilizing the new technology out there.

    Our new MicroSite,, offers an Online Designer, thousands of custom t-shirts templates and affordable ways to produce high-quality, professional looking FULL color printed shirts and totes.

    With the advent of digital t-shirt printing you can now print any digital photo or graphic design you create on your computer directly on a t-shirt–with no minimum order or setup requirements.

    Comment by Frank Nevins -

  6. Mark, I could not agree with you more. I am 25 and an entrepreneur in waiting. Everything I have ever started has always been augmented with a marketing campaign that featured t-shirts.
    In college, I founded a fraternity chapter. We were just a bunch of misfits, but upon getting our first batch of shirts an amazing amount of excitement spread across the group and the campus. Everyone saw the shirts and wanted to know what we are all about. I think sometimes something as simple as a t-shirt gives the business an identity, and countless hours of free advertising if the person actually chooses to wear them.

    When I started my own business while in college. It was a real challenge. I started a juicebar called Shaker\’s Blends and it was started on $4,000. We found that as soon as we got t-shirts and began giving them away to some of our customers the excitements and in effect the sales went up. Four months later I went from having no employees to having nine employees. A few months later I sold the business at a profit and graduated. Now I am in business school, and working full time, and the t-shirt lesson continues to serve me well.

    Comment by Toly Shilman -

  7. I know firsthand how great a t-shirt launcher can be because I sell them. In fact we sold two to the Dallas Mavericks, which they are currently using at their arena.
    I worked with the Denver Nuggets for four years and observered thousands of fans. Mark is right on about the excitement of fans for a free T-Shirt. Why? Because it is more than just a t-shirt;it is a memory!
    It is a memory of something that someone won and others didn’t, making it special, like a foulball or homerun ball caught at the ballpark. It is the shirt that reminds you of the event everytime you wear it. Much like a song that can remind you of a certain event in your life, a t-shirt will be a reminder of a fun experience in your life. You will remember what you were doing, who you were with, and all of the other moments which will bring a smile to your face as you reminisce about that happy moment.

    Comment by Adam Whitney -

  8. I really liked this post Mark. I am going to pass it along to the guys I work with so we can keep these types of things in mind. Observation almost always beats surveys.

    Comment by Jarrod Morgan -

  9. Amen! Customers will not come right out and tell you what they want – that’s why focus groups are a bunch of BS. Watch their actions, and you’ll get the whole story. Note to CMO’s everywhere: that means leaving your office and going out to actually interact with your customers. Watch how they buy your products, shop in your store, talk to your sales people and use your products. Find out what questions they have – only then will you know what your customers truly want. This is one of the reasons small businesses are in such a great position to serve their customers – they typically interact much closer with their customers every day and therefore know better what they actually want.

    And about the lighting – I thought I was nuts … went to a T-Wolves game the other night (first one this season) and I was convinced that Target Center had something wrong with their sound and lighting system. Glad to know I wasn’t imagining things!

    Comment by Caroline Melberg -

  10. People get excited by the adrenaline of the possibility of catching a prize. Not by t-shirts! I guarantee that you would have the same reaction if you were throwing almost anything in the crowd!
    This is a great but ironic example of the point in this blog. we see what we want to see! I see a different customer message then the love for t-shirts! And would look deeper into it before increasing my t-shirt promo’s at the games!

    Comment by ollie -

  11. True story:

    I never gave even the slightest shit about the NBA. A friend of mine moved to Boulder from Memphis, and the Grizzlies were in town on a cold and snowy Sunday night. Not many people showed up for the game, and the cheerleaders were tossing Nuggets t-shirts. I pointed to the cheerleader and indicated that I most certainly wanted a t-shirt. The woman behind me whined and bitched and moaned when I got it instead of her. I gave it to her, and got another one from another cheerleader shortly thereafter (really, there were not many people at all at the Pepsi that night). I have been a Nuggets fan ever since.

    Comment by Adam -

  12. At our High School football games they throw t shirts & it is crazy how people dive for them. It really does get them going.

    Comment by Shane in Georgia -

  13. I completely agree that sports leagues need to maintain as much excitement and “fun” activity as possible. Having worked for a minor league baseball teams for 5 years as the promotions director, I used as much glitz and glamour as possible. The fans loved it. I would rather attend a fun filled sports event at any level than a boring “Big League” game any day.

    Comment by Chris Petrewski -

  14. can i throw my t-shirts at one of your games?

    Comment by tony -

  15. Great post.
    I think the ability to aknowledge the limitation of marketing research itself is prerequisite to be a good marketer.

    Comment by kenji mori -

  16. Mark: funny how marketers are great at validating their own preconceptions and focus group attendees will go to great lengths to say what they think they think you want to hear.

    People really can’t tell you what they want. Ask them if the T shirt is important and they’ll tell you nothing. But they can show you, if you really look. Anthropological research. Go into the bush, or to Best Buy, and see ‘consumers’ in action picking up your product, looking confused, looking around for help, and then abandoning your clamshell. Sure beats the M&M’s behind the glass. Paco Underhill’s Envirosell does a great job at this — pick up “Why We Buy” if you haven’t read it.

    Good points here — thanks.

    Comment by Stephen Denny -

  17. As a sports fan, I’ll tell you exactly what I want.

    Considerably lower ticket prices.

    What people pay for tickets is absolutely ridiculous. There’s no way a regular season MLB baseball ticket should cost 36 dollars. There’s ABSOLUTELY no way a regular season NHL hockey ticket should cost $80.

    Comment by ScottyJ -

  18. YUP… T-shirts are a great Marketing tool, even boring trade show booths get a long line waiting for free T-shirt…

    I wonder why Landmark and other theatres dont do this at the movies…. it may be a partial solution to the problem of declining movie theatre attendance…. create a fun environment and kids/adults will come back


    Comment by bobby -

  19. I very rarely disagree with Mark, but I think you may have overlooked something here. It’s not that people want free tee shirts, they want anything that is free. I went to a Dodger’s game a couple of years ago, and the crowd went CRAZY when they started to give away free bags of peanuts. PEANUTS…. in LA of all places! These are people eating sushi in their $100 box seats, yet they want a free 5oz bag of PEANUTS!
    I think that if the Mavs should change things up a bit, and give out some different “free crap” and each game. Around Christmas they can give out a Mavs stocking. Maybe give away a free piece of chocolate around Valentines Day. The cheesy possibilities are endless.

    Comment by Chad Murphy -

  20. As Lance Armstrong once said and I’m paraphrasing…”It’s not about the bike”

    It ain’t about the t-shirt. If you catch one, somehow you’re a winner, because those 17,000 other raving fans don’t have one, ’cause of course they lack your cat like reflexes, dynamic dexterity and advanced skill level. I caught one three years ago and gave it to a little 7ish year old boy sitting in front of me. Kid was jumping up and down like he had come out of elementary school early and signed a multi million dollar contract with the Mavericks. His bigbrowneyed Mom looked up, whispered “Thank You” and got all teary eyed on me. Now that was a rush for me! So yes, still looking silly,jumping up and down trying to land one, but you better believe that while I’m hanging in mid air my head is doing a 360 swivel searching for that Mean Joe Green kid to toss it to.


    Comment by MitchMatch -

  21. Great (and sadly, unique) perspective, Mark. I used to work for Kroenke Sports (Nugs and Avs) as an intern. One of my many duties was prepare the t-shirts for that days game. This meant rolling up and hockey taping Sutton Homes (the sponsor) t-shirts. I would be at the game that night and watch fans turning away from the action (future hall of famers such as Patrick Roy, Peter Forsber and Joe Sakic) for the chance to catch a low quality, sponsor’s t-shirt with only a small indistinguishable, team logo. As a life-long hockey fan, I’m frightened by the NHL’s current methods for combating lack of American interest and I wish more owners had the foresight that you have shown.

    Comment by Joe Beaupre -

  22. I like Mavs entertainment but the music for Mavs/Stars really beats me. It’s too loud. I’m 25 so its not because I’m old. It’s a distraction and probably bad for hearing. And I really don’t like music while the game is on, I wish they’d only play music in the breaks. Mavs games are fun, I just feel like the entertainment is overkill. I think Sports in general try so hard to get the casual fan that they annoy the real sports fans that actual follow the game and care who Devean George and maybe can piece together what kind of offensive game plan the Mavs are running. I’m still a fan of Mavs games bc the prices for the cheap seats are great and the Dart rail makes getting there easy, it’s just that dang loud music that annoys me.

    Comment by Jay Callicott -

  23. People go crazy for catching something shot up from the court, ice, etc., not for getting a t-shirt. Perhaps you are looking at the crowd searching for a marketing lesson?

    Comment by rob -

  24. About the sounds and lights at basketball games. I live in NYC, and last time I went to a Knicks game it was so loud and overwhelming I decided never to go back. I am trying to get my 6 year old daughter enthused about basketball, but even when offered free Knicks tix I didn’t take her. It’s too much. The basketball is the product, and all the fake crowd noise and organ crap destroys the experience for me.

    Comment by Jeffrey -

  25. I agree. Reallt these T-shirts are a good stuff for advertising, but actually the quality is not the best one:-(

    Comment by Nina -

  26. Mark,

    My wife and I are big fans. We attend multiple games each season. We watch almost every game on TV and find a suitable Sports Bar when out of town.

    I urge you to eliminate the current method of distributing the free t-shirts and find another crowd excitement method to distribute, like a ticket stub lottery with the winning seats displayed on the big screen.

    Each time the cannon comes out I sit quietly and pray that an adult after a few beers, or heaven forbid an enthusiastic child doesn’t go over a upper level railing trying to reach too far for a shirt that just misses that level.

    You could be a leader in the NBA by considering the safety of your fans. If a child ever goes over a rail, the NBA and your lawyer will ban this dangerous promotion, so please get ahead of the curve and be a leader before a tragedy occurs.

    Best regards and Go Mavs,


    Comment by James C -

  27. I have long said that there should be a sporting event where all that happens is T-Shirts being fired out of cannons at the crowd, with small breaks for actual athletic competition.

    Comment by Chet Gulland -

  28. sorry wrong post…

    Comment by Michael -

  29. You wear a good looking, high quality suit (not a $99 polyester one) for tradition, respect, and class.

    And at times, to make the right impression. If none of those things hold any value to you or anyone else, then of course it doesn’t matter.

    I say this being a guy who loves plain Tshirt and jeans more than anyone. I also appreciate the qualities of tradition, respect, and class.

    Comment by Michael -

  30. This has nothing to do with T Shirts….but while watching game last night…I flipped over to Boston Legal…and heard Mark Cuban, along with Bill Gates names mentioned as the Atty. expressed knowledge in certain field to the jury as suggestion for advise in solving a problem……LOL Then I flipped back to game…Good game… works on ya nerves these close ones do…

    Comment by Laura -

  31. I have to admit, I don’t get it. People clamor for these shirts like they don’t actually own clothes. And for what? Some ill-fitting, low quality shirt with a gigantic corportae logo emblazoned on the back.

    Comment by Ben -

  32. Hi Mark,

    I think you may be interpreting the “t-shirt frenzy” the way you want to. In my experience the excitment at the cannons firing t-shirts into the audience at a ball game is more about the competitiveness of trying to get what is shot into the air, as well as the 5 seconds of fame it creates as everyone around you sees you make the grab.

    I don’t think it would matter what was in the ball being shot at you (as long as it is not a ball of shit, I suppose).

    You may be one of the only people able to test this theory. Ball up a Mavericks golf towel, or something else for the next month and see if it changes the frenzy.

    Great blog by the way.


    Comment by Jamie Scarborough -

  33. Great observation Mark! Hey, by the way…can I get a Mavs T-shirt? I never seem to be targeted by those silly cannons?


    Comment by Cameron -

  34. Best part of a minor league baseball game. The opponents beer hitter. If he strikes out, beers are 1/2 price the next inning.

    You want the fans to pay attention to the game, then add a commentator to the PA system. I’d like to know stats of the player as they commit a foul, or the team is in the bonus, or the number of blocks they have, or points… Don’t make me search for it on the scoreboard or wear headphones listening to my PDA/Radio.

    Lastly, what’s the first thing people say after “I went to the game the other night.”…. “Where did you sit?”.

    The single thing I remember from the 15 games I”ve been in my lifetime is where I sat. Everyone wants to get close.

    Why not save a row of folding chairs behind the basket and take one random row from the stands and move them down? I can tell you everyone will want to be that row someday.

    And while you’re at it, have a t-shirt waiting on the seat for them.

    Comment by PSC -

  35. I completely agree with this post. I play hockey at the Junior level and last year people would go crazy over anything free, pizza, clothing, you name it they loved it (and wanted it).

    Heck, they even announced it during the play so you would assume it was so loud because of something happening on the ice, not the case.. It was the free pizza.

    To funny..

    Comment by Miles -

  36. And hence ethnographic research is gaining a foothold in product/service development, because watching people beats asking people every time.

    Comment by Todd -

  37. I think everyone is missing the “why” people want the T-Shirts. People know that the T-shirt is probably the cheapest type of t-shirt, and that it probably won’t fit, but they want one. Why? Because it gives them a story to tell. For the next 10 years, when they go to a game, whenever the t-shirt cannon comes out they’ll be able to tell their buddy at the game that they got a t-shirt once. The fact that the t-shirt is crap is irrelevant. But try getting that out of a focus group…people don’t know why they want the t-shirt, but they know they want one…the focus group can’t tell you what they don’t know.

    Comment by Brent -

  38. I live in Philly & at Phillies games they’ll shoot hot dogs into the stands — & the same reaction ensues. A grown man in the upper deck is waving his arms like a madman in hopes that some guy in a green furry costume will shoot a Phillies Phrank his way. Insane, but it works. Had this idea gone through a focus group, it would never have been implemented. Sometimes focus groups are just a front for “i’m afraid to make a decision”

    Comment by steve jeltz -

  39. T-shirts are catnip.

    Wanna really see a frenzy? Before tossing them out, announce that there’s a prize voucher for an autograph or jersey inside one of the t-shirts.

    We did this when I worked for the Rockets and it worked like a champ.

    We also parachuted t-shirts down from the rafters. Selling the parachutes as signage.

    But the bigger point being made is key: self-reported behavior and preferences rarely tell the whole story. It’s why I used to sit all about the arena and to see how people really behave. Most people will never admit that they’d commit acts just shy of felony assault for a mere t-shirt, but they do!

    You can also use time lapse film to gauge how fan traffic ebbs and flows throughout a game. It can help your game ops, concessions and fan shop plan appropriately.

    BTW…research shows that shirt giveaways don’t negatively impact t-shirt sales. Most of the giveaways are only good enough to wash your car with. They don’t have enough badge value to wear with pride. And it’s the catching that provides the true payoff. If anything, catching a t-shirt spurs you to spend more money. It puts you in a better mood, and since you got something for nothing, now you can feel free to spend a little more on something else.

    Comment by jim wegerbauer -

  40. it’s funny cause i know it’s going to be a lame tshirt and yet i still get on my feet to try and catch a montreal hockey tshirt

    Comment by sedu -

  41. As a former funslinger I know how much people want the shirts. At EVERY game I had no less than 6 people come up to me and say “You guys never sling the shirts in our section” which was a lie, or “You need to sling shorts more often”.

    Comment by Don -

  42. Will there ever be anything as valuable as a free T-Shirt? It is not so much the shirt as the percieved value of the shirt. T-Shirts that are given away actually have a higher percieved value than those that you buy, because in 95% of the cases that is merchandise that you can’t just go to the store and buy. Who cares that it may be emblazened with sponsorship logos and not be of the best quality. Everywhere it is worn it makes a statement that “I got something not everyone else did.”

    The bottomline from the fan standpoint is ‘What’s in it for me?’ If they have a ticket to the game they have a pretty good idea what they are guaranteed before the night is done, but what about the extras that aren’t guaranteed with admittance? (like walking out with a T-Shirt) On a smaller scale people go nuts at the AAC when the blimp flies around tossing out free Chipotle coupons because they think they have a chance to get something not everyone else has. To a lesser degree it is the same thing with getting your face time on the scoreboard when they pan to crowd shots.

    Anything you can do to connect with the fans and give them more then they expected to get when they walked in the door helps raise the ‘percieved value’ of the game night experience with not only the fans in the arena, but the fans of the team everywhere. That is the real value of the T-Shirt.

    Comment by Scott -

  43. Has anyone not attended college or walked through an airport?

    The easiest way credit card companies attracted business was get a free t shirt and you have to sign up for a credit card.

    I was even given a free t shirt from a college when I submitted my application.

    Comment by Patrick -

  44. As a season ticket holder who sits up in the cheap seats where all these t-shirts land, I am going to disagree with this blog entry. At least half of the people in the crowd ignore the t-shirt launches, while the other half screams and waves their arms. The half who gets excited are the people who come to one game per year. The season ticket holders are whipped by these things.

    Every year that goes by I find myself getting more and more irritated by all the non-game distractions. The silly songs, the stupid on-court games, that god-awful Chris Arnold, I can’t stand any of it. Now if I came to one game per year and didn’t really care about basketball, then that stuff would be fun, but I’m only there to see the Mavs play and I couldn’t care less about the rest of it. That is why I think what the Lakers have done with the lighting is excellent. They have chosen to cater the experience to the regular customer, while the Mavs cater to the occassional customer.

    Comment by Adam -

  45. Mark, You are right on. I think “classic marketing” continues to ignore people “voting with their dollar.” I’ve seen it time after time both on the agency side and the corporate marketing side where they ignore the trend that people’s spending indicate, trying to instead impose something that a focus group said was important, or that the President of the company thought was trendy. In your case, the “data” tells the story. The crowd reaction, tells us that t-shirts generate interest at a sporting event. Not a focus group or survey. The same thing can be said for people’s spending patterns. You might be able to alter them, but if you want to be most effective, you have to pay the most attention to how people “vote with their dollar.” Great post Mark. Love reading this stuff.

    All the best:
    bill bledsoe

    Comment by bill -

  46. It doesn’t matter what is shot out of cannons toward the crowd – free stuff is what makes them crazy. Here in Kansas City, they shoot foil-wrapped hot dogs (with buns) to folks in the stands at Royals games. I can’t imagine they taste very good, but folks go crazy trying to get the free food.

    I’m one of the fans that is not interested in in-game distractions, but so long as it’s confined to between the innings, quarters, periods, or whatever, I’m happy to have the teams entertain the people bored by the game — it keeps my costs down (by drawing more advertising revenue for the team), keeps the team in town (with the higher attendance than if these dolts weren’t being amused), and reduces the number of people in line at the concession stands and bathrooms while I’m using the time before the game starts back up.

    Comment by Debi -

  47. It’s not just T-shrits, but everything and anything you seem tothrow out in a crowd…they just go nuts. Me inculded! I have seen a guy, break his leg over a foul ball at a baseball game. So throwing t-shirts, or anything else for that matter, into a crowd is great marketing!!

    Here is my throw…catch…

    Comment by Kyle Maguire -

  48. – Mark this is true; I also like the comment about if the shirts were more quality – and also had no sponsors on them just the team logo –

    – then Vintage would kick in – How about you design and ‘autograph’ some – “Jersey like” shirts – costing around 10 bucks each, then shoot 10 per game …. these would be collectable.

    Comment by pallet jack -

  49. Mark, great interview in Toronto on the weekend.

    Comment by Trent Lamb -

  50. T-Shirts are simple. Simple always works best in business.

    T-Shirts are like comfort food. They make you feel good.

    T-Shirts remind us of our childhoods.

    T-Shirts express our opinions.

    T-Shirts empower us to be non-conformists. I’ve always loved the way Multi-Billionaire David Geffen wears a white t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers to busines meetings. That is just as in your face corporate America as it gets.

    T-Shirts rock. I wear mine to sleep at night. And Polo shirts during the daytime. Haven’t worn a tie in years, except to weddings and funerals. LOL

    Comment by Kevin - -

  51. Personally I like it when they bring out the hot dog cannon!!! 🙂

    Comment by Jason Barnett -

  52. It’s an amazing little tool. I’ve been in the music business for over twenty years now and this is something that works almost every time. Once our bands went from having a sign up sheet at the merch booth for the mailing list to having a box to put an entry form in for a chance to win a free t-shirt – given away as part of the show – our signups went up about tenfold. For one t-shirt.

    Something else that works quite well is an autographed item. In fact, if you’d like an autographed copy of the new Billy Joe Shaver CD, we’ve got you covered!

    Comment by Michael -

  53. to answer Jason. The last time was our game against Philly. Sat in the top row. one side of the arena, top row behind our basket the 1st half.
    2nd half, top row behind the other basket

    do it as much as i can

    Comment by Mark Cuban -

  54. Great post and insight into something seemingly so simple. People do love to get invoved, and people do love to get things for free. Give just about anything away and people will get excited about it.

    Comment by basketball drill -

  55. I agree about the T-Shirt comments.. which makes me wonder why there is not more T-Shirt passed out at Mavs game. The few with the cannon, the 5 or 6 slingshot into the crowd by the Dr. Pepper boys and the few the dancers tease everyone with. My estimate is maybe 30 T-Shirts a night to 20,000 spectators. I have been to several other arenas and there are many more t-shirts passed out. In Denver, the dancers got tired of passing out T-Shirts since they had hundreds of them. What’s the deal? Not enough sponsers for the free t-shirts?

    Comment by Barry Luther -

  56. When the shirt cannon comes out and I’m sitting in section 324, 5 rows from the back wall, I feel connected to the game. To be honest, for the price I could get a better experience at Hooters, watching the game on a big screen with some friends, while drinking.

    Shirts draw me in…it gives me a glimmer of hope. It’s the same when they show fans on the big screen…maybe, just maybe, they’ll show me. Maybe I’ll catch a shirt and pull something away from the game, since I could barely see the ball.

    Cube, when was the last time you watched a game from up there? Now, there’s some market research.

    Comment by Jason -

  57. I’m glad you see that a focus group is not as focus as tens of thousands of fans screaming for fireworks, a $5 t-shirt, or whatever else is going on. The game on the floor/field/rink is no longer the only selling point.
    I’m in the minority. I don’t need any of the extra stuff, I go to the game to see the game. Sell to only me and you go bankrupt.

    Comment by Joe -

  58. You might like the t-shirt cannon rigamarole, but one of the best sports-fan experiences of my life was opening night at RFK Stadium for the Nats in 2005. I just barely managed to get tickets in the 500 level, straight back in the outfield, underneath the scoreboard. The place was electric. And because there were no scoreboards yet installed along the mezzanine, and the sound guy had apparently not found the on switch for the mic, there were minimal public addresses, no thumping sound effects for every play, no way to keep score without paying attention, and NO stupid theme songs and crowd “motivators.” The emphasis was, as it should always be, on the game. You can argue that this was a unique event, and that it’s baseball, which has a different energy level than basketball, but you know what, it was the best game I’ve ever attended in my entire life, and there was nothing technologically more advanced than the last time RFK hosted a team, 30 years prior. I know there will never be a return to the time before annoying music, absurd half-time shows and all the other things that make a casual sports fan think going to a game is fun, but for me, it’s so much more fun to be left to concentrate on the game than the GiantVision scoreboard display. I know I’m in the minority. But at what point does turning games into “entertainment products” begin to alienate the people who understand what’s happening on the floor to begin with? I’d rather see a nicely defended pick and roll or a perfect backdoor layup than the appearance of the stupid t-shirt cannon, any day.

    Comment by Paul -

  59. Tshirts can be effective promo material for companies to use internally too. at the company where I work, the world stops for a new tshirt handout. we’ll print up new tshirts with a product rollout, a new sales incentive, a winning culture focus…anything. and people will break their backs working if it means they can win one.

    Comment by Mammals -

  60. I went to an Arena football game last season for the first time. The noise and energy was awesome! T-shirt cannons galore…

    Comment by Todd -

  61. Sports fans love competition- what we witness is not the love of t-shirts, it’s the love of competing. Go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans sometime soon and witness the competition for virtually worthless plastic beads.

    The t-shirts work particularly well because, with modern t-shirt cannon technology, anyone may feel like they have a chance to win one and part of the victory will be of their own efforts- how many of us will admit to moving over to our spouse’s aisle seat when they’re launching t-shirts?

    If I marketed a sports team, I believe I would launch a lot more low value stuff into the stands- probably doubloons like you see at Mardi Gras. Make the doubloons valuable for cheap free stuff provided by marketing partners (free taco after game, etc.) and also low end souvenirs unto themselves- embossed with likeness of Dirk, Mark, Avery and other on/off court Mavs.

    The problem with t-shirts is that you also sell t-shirts. I’ve caught a few in my day and handed that cheap shirt over to the kids and kept the $20 for the “real” shirt in my pocket.

    Find a way to get the home viewing audience involved also. Direct them to your website after the game for a limited duration non-random game of skill to win some prizes that will reward them for having faithfully watched the game in real time- if they Tivo it they will be beyond the contest time limit.

    Maybe set aside four really great seats at the next home game for the grand prize winners of these right after the game on line contests where the questions are just as likely to be about your sponsors as the game itself. Fans love to participate in competition, that is why they “adopt” your team and even you personally.

    Sure it’s fun to watch the Mavs throttle some opponent, but it’s even more fun to watch Mark Cuban “take on the man”, knowing that he has been blessed with the resources to call it as he sees it, right or wrong.

    Comment by Trey Tomeny -

  62. T-shirts are a funny thing because everyone loves us. When I started my site (you can click on my name to go to it) the first suggestion I got regarding what I could do to improve the site was to offer t-shirts.

    Comment by Tyler -

  63. This lesson is apparent across the board – an extension of the idea that children don’t do what you tell them to, they do what you do.

    human beings have a distorted perception of themselves and their wants and needs. hence, marketing can be one of two things: a bit of mindreading that sees the market’s true wants and attempts to appeal to that, or an infrastructure that can create artificial need and can convince the consumer that the aticle in question is a must have. In my estimation marketing does more of the latter – creating artificial demand – and popular culture is a strong engine for that.

    I imagine that the characteristics you attribute to marketers are evident in individuals as well. That’s why the most important thing you can do is watch your consumer. This is why Google is king – and will be because I don’t see their monopoly going away soon. All they do is watch and let the world tell them EVERYTHING. Wow.

    I work in film and once read an interview of Jerry Bruckheimer. The interviewer asked him how he spent his spare time. He said, interestingly enough, that he spent a lot of time at the movies. Gauging a firsthand audience reaction on opening night… incognito, is a powerful way to gauge the reception to a movie, its stars, the genre, the concept, etc. Observation is powerful.

    Comment by blyx -

  64. part of the frenzy could be the fans trying to gain a few seconds in their alloted 15 minutes of fame. btw Mark, you are way over your 15…. but you earned it.

    for me: I want a novelty item that cannot be purchased. I want to brag to my friends sitting next to me, and tell my friends when I get home.

    Comment by greg -

  65. Your post brings me back a few years ago before i lost my life savings trying to start up a sunglass company. I was a show when some band started having a small crowd play simon say’s for a free t-shirt. My life changed that day. “The Simon Say’s theory”

    Comment by murphy -

  66. The problem with most ‘research’ and/or surveys, is the context or complete lack thereof. Unfortunately, it’s hard to quantify anecdotal, natural or real-world feedback for it to look presentable on a powerpoint for the pinheads. So keep firing t-shirts (of the kind Holly mentions in 3) and feel free to mix in some hottie gunners…

    Comment by cd_turk -

  67. How could the Dallas Mavericks (or any organization or business) use t-shirts to get fans more excited about the game itself, not just the free shirt? After they’re launched, fans sit down and get back to their hot dog…

    Narendra, I agree that competing against others to catch the shirt certainly adds to the emotions. Adults want to win it for their kids (or themselves).

    Comment by AJL -

  68. I agree with you wholeheartedly on this. I think a great example of this in a different arena is what Microsoft does at their events. I have been to more Microsoft developer, system builder, tech net, blah blah blah events than I care to count but I always come home with a pile of swag. I have an entire closet devoted to event swag now and it never stops me from getting excited about what they will give out at the next one.

    Comment by MichaelSB -

  69. It’s not about the t-shirt, it is about competition (winning or beating out everyone else for the prize) and in that light, it is HIGHLY predictable behavior because these people are attending a competitive event.

    Comment by Narendra -

  70. I get exactly what you are saying! I consider myself a pretty savvy basketball fan and a very smart businessman. I realize when those people walk on the court, there is a 1:10000 chance of me getting a shirt.. but you are right… I’m up on my feet like a moron screaming for a 5$ cotton t-shirt, that probably won’t fit anyway! lol…

    And the passing comment you made about the minimalized lighting and sound… that has to be a reference to the Mavs at Lakers a week or so ago… I spent the whole first half of the game thinking something was wrong with the lights in the Staple center.. it wasn’t until Mark Followell mentioned it after half-time that it was “theatre lighting” that I caught on… The first thing I thought was, what the hell? Thats the worst damn idea ever! It didn’t make it anymore dramatic.. it just pissed me off… if anything when referees made bad calls or players (Mavs and Lakers both) got away with a travel, illegal pick, etc… it just magnified it! There was no ambient sights or sounds to distract me…

    And it can’t be good for the crowd… they feel like they wasted money.. part of the fun of going to a game, like you said, is interaction with the rest of the fans. And I’m sure it drove the players nuts! I’ve played basketball in a dark gym before the lights were all on… it messes with your depth perception and it messes with your spatial recognition.

    I’m sure it could be classified as dangerous for the players… I think there needs to be a consistent playing situation. Baskets are all the same height… floor is all the same width and length… I think there should be consistent lighting too! And sound. Its not tennis for cripes sakes… its suppose to be loud

    Sorry about the Rant. Where’s my shirt? lol

    Comment by Matt Price -

    If you follow this link you can see talk by economist Malcolm gladwell about this exact issue. The conclusion is that the masses typically do not know how to express their desires, and they do not know what they want in the first place. People basically say what the ads tell them they like, even if it is not what they want.

    Comment by superdave -

  72. This post made me think of the Threadless company… cool idea. They are right here in Chicago.

    Comment by John -

  73. It is amazing how fast a group or individual will tell you what is on his mind by an action vs how fast it takes to interpet what he says.

    If a picture is worth a thousand words, then actions a worth a million.


    Comment by Guy Pelletier -

  74. that’s really right i know that i live in Israel and people pay some thing like 20$ for a shirt with the letter I on it and after one iron you see only line

    Comment by dordali -

  75. I think you guys should shoot free Donald Trump hair toupee’s into the crowd. This in response to “The Donald’s” comments about you a couple weeks ago.

    Actually I think you should hand them out to the first 10,000 fans… could you imagine 10,000 people with that awful comb over?

    If anything… it would get him so fired up it would definitely be worth it. Plus, imagine the press coverage. Would be a great way to get free press for HDNet, etc… but more than anything it would just be funny.


    Comment by Sports Blog -

  76. That is a great observation and one I have noticed as well on the corporate/ motivational level. A company will have a big meeting to rev up the troops right before they are inevitably handed more work and then the swag comes out. They want you to cheer and get pumped about the new initiative or the company in the form of cheering and jumping for cheap shirts, mousepads and such. the employees will not react in that form for anything else in that meeting no matter how good the information, so t-shirts is where its at for instant emotional response. I know because i have 10-15 shirts 3 backpaks, 1 beach towel, and dozens of other smaller peices to show how I respond at the slightest hint of free stuff being flung into a group of previously uninterested people.How can complex people be so easy to figure out sometimes.

    Comment by scott dearmore -

  77. imagine now if they were high quality t shirts – t shirts without that cheap screen printing ink that melts when you iron it (not that you’d be ironing said flung into the crowd t shirt). shirts that fade really well with time and get super soft. i’m talking about the t shirt with VINTAGE possibilities. i predict mass hysteria would ensue.

    Comment by holly -

  78. When are you going to slingshot “David Stern University” shirts into the Mavs crowd? I would stand up for that one.

    Comment by John Mark -

  79. I am always amazed at how crazy people get over t-shirts. You see it in clubs when some KBLAH radio wants to have a promo as well as sporting events. I always remain seated during the shirt barage. The cell phone comes out and I start checking other NBA socres.

    Comment by Jon -

Comments are closed.